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Two by Fassbinder

Two by Fassbinder – Pre-Paradise Sorry Now and Katzelmacher

By Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Translated by Denis Calandra

Department of Theatre & Drama
November 15-18, 2007 • Arthur Miller Theatre

The Story: A small group of aimless workers are the focus of Katzelmacher. Through a series of mundane conversations, they fight boredom through sexual games and petty gossip. When a migrant worker, Jorgos, “a Greek from Greece,” moves in with one of the group, xenophobia and jealously increase already simmering tensions, ultimately erupting in violence. A powerful statement on alienation and discontent, Fassbinder’s adaptation of the play for film won 7 international awards, including Gold at the German Film Awards in 1970 and would set him on the road towards film stardom. Pre-Paradise Sorry Now examines the infamous “Moors Murders” in Great Britain in the mid 1960s. Disturbing narrations and imagined conversations of serial killers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are paired with opposing scenes of vice, squalor, and sadism along with fragments of prayer. Pre-Paradise Sorry Now is an effective, chilling, and unsettlingly humorous look at the dark side of human behavior.

Artistic Significance: Wunderkind German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder was at the forefront of the New German Cinema movement in the 1960s and 70s. Starting in the German ‘anti-theatre’ in 1967, Fassbinder produced, directed, wrote, and often starred in over 41 features including The Marriage of Maria Braun during his short 14-year creative life. His plays and films were, and are, controversial and perversely entertaining social commentary on mankind’s propensity towards evil and exploitation. Film critic J. Hoberman of the Village Voice declared him “the most torrential force in cinema since Goddard.” With Fassbinder’s early death at the age of 37, his legacy of extraordinary productivity and timeless insight into the interplay between people lives on.

Artistic Staff

Director: Malcolm Tulip
Assistant Director: Kat Edwards
Dramaturg: Hana Worthen
Scenic Design: Elyse Handelman
Costume Design: Taran Muller
Lighting/Video Design: Justin N. Lang
Dialect Coach: Annette Masson
Stage Manager: Angela F. Kiessel

Cast

Katzelmacher

Helga: Meredith Stepien
Gunda: Rebecca Whatley
Elisabeth: Alexandra Odell
Marie: Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe
Ingrid: Tedra Millan
Paul: Joseph Walker
Erich: Torrey Wigfield
Jorgos: Ben Bornstein
Bruno: Joey Richter
Franz: Gordon Granger

Pre-Paradise Sorry Now

Narrator: Meredith Stepien
Myra Hindley: Alexandra Odell
Ian Brady: Joseph Walker
Jimmy: Ben Bornstein
Ensemble: Ben Bornstein, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Gordon Granger, Tedra Millan, Joey Richter, Meredith Stepien, Rebecca Whatley, Torrey Wigfield

Sponsors

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance acknowledges the generosity of McKinley Associates, Inc. whose support has helped make this production possible.

Resources

I saw the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder as a student in London 30 years ago. I never realized he was also a playwright and stage actor until fairly recently. On one of my regular visits to the drama sections of the local secondhand bookshops, searching for new and cheap plays, I found a Fassbinder anthology. When choosing a play for my first production in the Arthur Miller Theatre, I wanted a challenge, a text that would demand from me new ideas, fresh processes, and that would demand significant collaboration from the actors and design team. Pre-Paradise Sorry Now leapt out at me, closely followed, at the suggestion of Erik Fredricksen, by Katzelmacher.

It became clear then dramaturgical assistance was essential and Hana Worthen arrived on our doorstep, with a knowledge of German and an ability to seek out research and criticism that has educated us all. Many audiences may not realize that these productions also provide a training ground for future directors and I have had significant assistance from my assistant Kat Edwards.

The cast has been indefatigable and courageous. They have brought commitment and openness; they have been intellectually engaged and willing to enter into a personal involvement with the material. Finally, I feel fortunate to be able to work in a school where I have the freedom to educate and, at the same time, be educated. It is a freedom we cannot take for granted in this country.

— Malcolm Tulip. October 12, 2007

From Baal (1918) by Bertolt Brecht

Translated by William E. Smith and Ralph Manhein

THE YOUNG LADY: Honored Master [Baal], ladies and gentlemen. Permit me to read you a poem from “Revolution” magazine. I’m sure it will interest you. (She rises and reads):

The poet must avoid resplendent harmonies.
He must blow tubas, shrilly flog the drum.
He must arouse the people with chopped phrases.

The new world
Abolishing the world of torment,
Island of happy humanity.
Speeches. Manifestoes.
Singing from platforms.
Let the new holy State
Be preached, inoculated into the blood of the people, blood of their blood.
Coming of Paradise.
-Let us disseminate an atmosphere of upheaval!
Learn! Make ready! Prepare!

A dramaturg’s role is to study the play from a variety of perspectives, constantly returning to the question of how the production might speak to us. Working on Fassbinder is particularly exciting, since his plays are often akin to textual collages, which the ensemble is invited to arrange in ways best suited to its needs. Performing within a large, state- and privately-supported educational institution, our concern was how to involve the legacy of Fassbinder’s antiteater, politically committed to engaging its audience with innovative aesthetics and multilayered social critique.

Typically, the dramaturg prepares materials for the production, researching the historical, social, political, and cultural milieux of the play. Here, we brought aspects of Fassbinder’s and his ensemble’s biography, the premieres, musical background, and reviews into the rehearsal process; the relationship between Fassbinder’s work for film and theatre was at once part of the historical texture of our discussions, and also provided a point of departure for our thinking. As a member of the first post-war generation born into the ruins of National Socialism, Fassbinder was aware of the inheritance of the Third Reich’s ethically and intellectually numbing artistic, social, and cultural values in his surrounding bourgeois culture; like his colleagues, he sought to imagine a freshly critical direction for contemporary aesthetics. Bringing Katzelmacher and Pre-Paradise Sorry Now into the new century, and into an American university environment, I was concerned to use dramaturgical research to mediate between the “scene” of the plays’ original work, their production in the United States today, and the changing practices of progressive theatre since the 1960s.

Katzelmacher is astonishingly pertinent. Treating the predicament of a guest worker in 1960s Germany, the play continues to resonate with the persistence of national stereotypes in the European Union, where discrimination continues to circulate: it is still difficult to be taken for a Greek in Germany, a Russian in Finland, a Ukrainian in the Czech Republic. Even within a given state, discriminated groups struggle among themselves for recognition and influence, a struggle not always visible to the dominant culture. Although this kind of racism may seem familiar to an American audience, it is differently inflected in many places in Europe, where citizenship carries with it a sense of belonging to the native soil. “Americans” are an anomaly for Europe, sometimes not considered as a traditional nation, as one of the principal values of “American” identity stands outside the conventions of European nationalisms: the oxymoron of a nation of immigrants. The consequences of the everyday repetition of such discriminatory truisms lie at the heart of Katzelmacher; we, too, have used the play to look into and behind the routine patterns of language to reveal the mechanisms with which we construct our “truths” and act them out.

Written in response to the Living Theatre’s participatory spectacle Paradise Now, Fassbinder’s Pre-Paradise Sorry Now departs from the plot-and-character conventions of realism, setting forth several fragmentary lines of action, and deindividualizing characters to assert the brutal lyricism of an architectural poetry of cruelty. Intending his play to stand in dialogue with Paradise Now, Fassbinder’s work resists the optimism expressed by the Living Theatre’s title, while extending their dissent from art’s dependence on consumer culture. Rather than an explicit ritual, though, Fassbinder introduces sets of exchangeable material – scenes of fascistoid behavior in everyday life, dialogues between the Yorkshire “moors murderers” of the 1960s, short recollected liturgies, and narrations – in a complex reflection. Projecting an underlying brutality through serialized situations, the play might seem to speak to the contemporary disconnection between the advertised official values of our country and society, what Fassbinder would call “liturgies of crime,” and the violence they conceal and produce.

— Hana Worthen

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